Learn how to preserve the seasons bounty
No longer associated with a bygone era, canning has regained popularity as more and more people learn to preserve the goodness of local produce.
In days gone by, the only way to ensure enough food to make it through the long Canadian winters was by preserving the abundant harvest gathered during summer and fall. While preserving local produce was once a common practice, many people no longer have the knowledge or experience.
Today, however, looking to the wisdom and recipes passed down from generation to generation, home cooks are once again capturing the essence of vegetables and fruit at their nutritional peak—with a modern twist—through the art of canning.
What is canning?
Canning, by definition, is applying heat to food in a container with the purpose of removing air, thus creating a vacuum seal that inhibits natural spoilage that would otherwise occur. While our grandmothers may have had their own method for canning, today it is widely recognized that there are two safe and effective home canning methods: boiling water bath canning and pressure canning. Which method you use depends on the temperature needed to kill or deter the growth of harmful bacteria, yeast, or mold in an acidic or non-acidic environment.
Water bath canning
Water bath canning is a great canning method for beginners. Using equipment available in most kitchens, this method is used when canning high-acid foods such as tomatoes, salsa, jellies, pickles, jams, and fruits.
Pressure canning requires the use of a specialized pressure canner and should only be attempted by home cooks who have more canning experience. This method is best used for preserving low-acid foods such as meats, fish, and non-pickled vegetables.
With the harvest season upon us, why not seize the opportunity to roll up your sleeves and spend an afternoon canning with family or friends? Your meals will be rewarded with the flavourful and nutritious reminders of the best of summer’s bounty.
Note: instructions on how to do water bath canning are found in the “Water bath canning 101” sidebar. All the kitchen equipment you’ll need is itemized in the “Gear up!” sidebar.
Water bath canning 101
For those new to canning, processing filled jars in a boiling water bath is the simplest of canning techniques. While not difficult, it is important to follow several steps to ensure that jars properly seal and preserved items remain food safe.
Canning highs and lows
The altitude at which you do your canning will affect the amount of processing time needed. The reason for this is once you get more than 1,000 ft (305 m) above sea level, the temperature at which water boils is lower. Thus, if you live in Calgary at an elevation of 3,438 ft (1,084 m), even if your water is boiling, it may not be hot enough to properly seal and preserve your ingredients. Adjust water bath processing times according to the following chart:
|Altitude (ft)||Altitude (m)||Additional processing time (minutes)|
|001 - 3,000||305 - 914||5|
|3,001 - 6,000||915 - 1,828||10|
|6,001 - 8,000||1,829 - 2,438||15|
|8,001 - 10,000||2,439 - 3,048||20|
Too hot to handle
When cutting up jalapeno or poblano peppers, wear latex or rubber kitchen gloves to prevent burns to your skin. Avoid touching your eyes, as capsaicin, an oil found in these peppers, can cause painful irritation.
The right tools, peak seasonal ingredients, and a tried and tested recipe are the keys to successful home canning. To make the recipes in this article, almost all of the equipment you need can be found in your kitchen right now.
If your area has hard water with a high mineral content it may lower the acidity of your pickling liquid, which can spell disaster during long-term storage. Instead, use distilled water to achieve pickled perfection.